Shrinking funding for higher education is grim backdrop for forum
By Chris Casey | University Communications
AURORA, Colo. – The four candidates for an at-large Board of Regents seat debated ways to maintain affordable and high-quality education at the University of Colorado, and shared views on grade forgiveness, privatized programs, conceal-carry gun permits and other issues.
About 60 people attended the debate at the Anschutz Medical Campus on Thursday evening. The event was hosted and moderated by members of the Anschutz Medical Campus Student Senate and the Student Government Association of CU Denver.
The candidates are incumbent Stephen Ludwig (Democrat), a corporate communications professional; Dr. Brian Davidson (Republican), a physician and faculty anesthesiologist at the Anschutz Medical Campus; non-traditional student Daniel Ong (Libertarian); and high school student Tyler Belmont (American Constitution Party). Ludwig narrowly defeated Davidson for one of the nine-member board’s two at-large seats six years ago.
All candidates except Belmont, 18, have attended the University of Colorado. Davidson is a three-time CU graduate, including the School of Medicine, while Ludwig earned a degree at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Ong is a current student at CU-Boulder.
Ludwig stressed that he is a passionate supporter of public higher education and that, similar to the other candidates, he supports affordable tuition, increased efficiencies and overall academic quality. “But there’s really one thing above all else. If things don’t change there will be no public money for public higher education in Colorado in five to 11 years — let that sink in,” he said. “Without state money we are privatized. If you think tuition is expensive now and if you think you have a lot of debt today, just wait until that state money goes away.”
Forecasts show, said Ludwig, who favors a ballot measure asking voters to raise funds for higher education, that the state’s public higher-education system will enroll 100,000 more students by 2028 than it currently serves.
Davidson emphasized keeping education affordable, supporting CU’s growth in the health care system and promoting quality academic programs. “I’ve had the opportunity to spend more than a decade serving and learning in the classrooms and at the bedside within the CU system,” he said. “This experience provides me with a unique perspective.”
Belmont said that being a young, third-party candidate aligns him with student interests. He said higher-education institutions need to collaborate, not compete, and must curb skyrocketing tuition. He said private-public partnerships need to be maximized to enhance education. “We’ve been applying 20th century solutions to 21st century problems, and I think in that regard we are very much falling behind.”
Ong stressed a hands-off approach to higher education, advocating low-cost tuition, the repeal of CU-Boulder’s athletic fee, program consolidation (such as merging ethnic studies and women’s studies into the sociology department), and the rights of concealed-carry permit holders on campuses, including in residence halls.
Last spring, the state Supreme Court struck down CU’s gun ban. Holders of concealed-carry permits can now bring weapons to campus with exception to dorms and ticketed events.
Ludwig opposes guns on campus and was among the regents who favored continuing the legal battle after a 2010 appellate ruling that sided with a gun-rights group. The group challenged, through a lawsuit, that the university policy on concealed guns violated state law.
“I’m not a fan of guns on campus. I haven’t been and won’t be,” Ludwig said. “But I do agree that we have to comply with the law …. We need to take the appropriate steps.”
Davidson said CU acted appropriately with its new policy. “I support the Supreme Court decision that it’s not within the legal ability of an individual board of higher education to circumvent that law,” he said. “Giving institutional discretion would be a distraction from higher-education issues.”
Belmont said the university has taken appropriate measures to improve campus safety. “I just feel like putting guns into the equation of college campuses, where there’s already a problem of alcohol and drug presence, is a nasty combination and an accident waiting to happen.”
On the question of how they would handle the trend of larger class sizes to offset fiscal constraints, most candidates said they don’t necessarily equate class size with quality of courses. Candidates also agreed that the matter of grade forgiveness — which can inflate student GPAs, thereby offering an advantage, if their institution has lenient policies — requires more study to ensure that CU students are not being harmed. “I think looking at what other institutions are doing and trying to come up with something similar — so we’re not gaming our own graduates, but not setting them back — is the appropriate thing to do,” Davidson said.
The candidates were asked if the School of Medicine should break ties with the state, since only 2 percent of its budget is state supplied.
“I think rather than saying we’re going to privatize the medical school we need to go the state and say, ‘These medical students serve us in so many ways — they’re so critical that we need to support them in a more robust way,'” Ludwig said. “And what the doctors are doing (a 10 percent tax on their clinical practice goes to the School of Medicine) is so critical to supporting the medical school.”
Davidson also doesn’t support privatization of the medical school, but said the university needs to take advantage of what’s working revenue-wise. “We need to have a frank discussion of what we’re willing to support,” he said. “I’m happy to give 10 percent or 15 percent of what I do every day back. The problem is — and I’ve been very critical of that — I would like more of that to go to you (the students), not to other programs, given that state funding is decreasing.”
(Photo: Debating at the forum for the At-large Regent seat are candidates, from left, Tyler Belmont, Dr. Brian Davidson, incumbent Stephen Ludwig and Daniel Ong.)